Hunting for Bourbon County Stout
by Colonel Steve Akley
I decided to have some fun and go out and see if I could have any luck nabbing some Bourbon County Stout this year. I've bought some in the past, but always after the initial crowds were gone. If there was a bottle or two left here and there, I would pick them up and feel like I was smarter than those that had burned their morning waiting around to buy BCS. I mean, in my mind, at that time, in the end, weren't we simply drinking the same beer? I had never gotten into the whole scene of driving around and standing in lines.
Over the past year, my disdain for standing in line for rare offerings has completely changed. It started with participating in an allocated raffle for bourbon at Total Wine. I hit spot #29 and got to buy a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle 10-Year-Old. It was exciting and fun. A few days later, Jeremy Schell and I spent the night outside of Four Roses to nab a bottle of Al Young.
I found these experiences to be fun, exciting and securing those bottles had felt like an accomplishment. I was clearly hooked. A chase for some BCS would feed that fire that had been stoked hunting bourbon.
Before we get to my adventure, though, we'll start out with a little bit about what BCS is.
Bourbon County Stout is produced by Goose Island Brewery and it is aged in bourbon barrels and is released once a year... on Black Friday. You can certainly argue as to whether or not the beer lives up to the hype, but, for much of the country, it's the beer equivalent of Pappy Van Winkle (I understand that in the Northeast as well as some other areas of the country it sits on shelves, but where I live, and for much of the country, it doesn't even hit the shelves... it's all gone in a flurry of a buying frenzy in a matter of hours).
One of the things that contributes to the popularity of BCS is the fact that in addition to the regular version, they have some tougher to find varietals and even one deemed "rare" that is the "golden goose" (the "impossible one to find"... goose pun intended). Some stay the same for these varietals year-to-year (Barley Wine and Coffee) and some change (Northwoods a blueberry tasting version and a "Proprietor's" that also changes and this year was supposed to taste like Bananas Foster). The "Golden Goose" this year is one aged in Knob Creek Bourbon barrels. It came in its own fancy box and would prove to be the most elusive.
My goal was a case. That's what I wanted to nab. That would be 12 bottles, which is no small feat because many stores limit you to one or two bottles and the price is about $11 a bottle for the regular and up to $30 a bottle for the Knob Creek rare bottle.
I spoke to a friend that worked at Total Wine. He always tows the company line and won't say what they had, but simply stated it was impressive. I decided to take a chance and make that my first stop of the morning. They opened at 8:00 a.m. so my goal was to be in line by 6:00 a.m.
I got there on-time and secured the 12th spot in line. I felt pretty good about that. Thinking the Knob Creek was out of reach, my goal was a bottle of Northwoods. When the staff arrived around 7:00 a.m. we were informed we would get two bottles of the regular, one rare varietal and the option to buy another rare allocated beer (they had been hanging onto them the last several months for this day).
Eight o'clock came and they marched us in precision to the back of the store to a counter. One guy actually tried to cut line right in front of me, but Total Wine runs a tight ship and ask to see your line card before you go through and he got the walk of shame out of the line and into the holding pen where he had to wait for his actual spot (#30).
I'm actually so into bourbon, I don't know the ins-and-outs of beer. I mean I like it... but just as a fan, not an expert. I decided for my pick at the allocated bottle, I would just watch what was popular with those ahead of me.
As I got closer to the counter where you got to make your selections, I saw there were going to be enough Knob Creek bottles for me to get one. YES! No matter what happened during this day from this point forward it was going to be a success.
At the front of the line, I got my two bottles of regular BCS, my coveted Knob Creek and I bomber of Old Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels. (Another YES!)
The next place I wanted to hit was Randle's which is another big retailer here in St. Louis. I knew that they had a large supply and also gave it away on a first-come / first-serve basis. I jumped in line there and landed in spot #30 (there would probably another 70 behind me by the times the doors opened).
Once again, there was an hour long wait, but I spent the time talking beer and chasing Bourbon County Stout with a couple of the guys right around me. When the doors opened, we finally found out how they were operating. You buy two bottles of regular, and. you get three varietals: coffee, barley wine and Northwoods.
Well, it wasn't meant to be a perfect day because I got the old "good news / bad news" scenario. About 8 spots in front of me, they ran out of Northwoods. That's certainly bad news as it was the varietal I really wanted and I knew by the time I got out of here, the chase for varietals was over. There would still be regular BSC to find out there to complete my case, but no place would have any left by this time (approximately 10:15 in the morning). The only saving grace, when it was my turn, there were only four packs left containing varietals at all. Everyone else in the line would only be getting two bottles of regular BCS. Not a complete loss, but also not worth standing outside in the cold for an hour either.
Let's recap. My mission was 12 bottles. At this point, I had seven. Four bottles of regular, a barley wine, a coffee and a Knob Creek. Five bottles to go before this mission was complete.
While in line, the rep from the wholesaler that carries BCS was there. He told us the local grocery store that had purchased the most. It was only a few minutes from Randle's so I knew my next stop was there. It ended up being a solid tip. Plenty available so I picked up my maximum (3 bottles) and headed out.
Ten bottles now, two more to go.
I went to three more stores in the same grocery chain... all sold out.
Then I thought about this one fairly large liquor store here that is usually like a ghost town (I bet they won't be here in a year). I headed there. I saw a clerk and asked if they had any Bourbon County Stout left. "Only the regular" he told me, pointing to a stack of 10 cases.
For good measure, I thought I would buy four... exceeding my goals. "The limit's two," he instructed me as I grabbed my four bottles.
I put two back but my mission was accomplished. One case of Bourbon County Stout and it was only 11:00 a.m.
I had a blast setting a goal, hunting to find it, scoring some of the tough to find bottles and one of the "impossible" to find bottles (I even had a guy offer me $150 for my Knob Creek at Randle's). The best part, though, is just hanging out in the line. Bourbon and beer hunters are like fisherman. They have great stories... one that got away, big hauls, amazing finds, insider tips and speculation. It's just fun. If you get a chance, I highly recommend adding some BCS hunting to your bucket list in 2018.